Thursday, August 7, 2014

Combining endurance exercise with resistance training

Over the course of the last 2 blogs, I've gone over the evidence that endurance exercise is something humans are uniquely adapted to and the science behind how we adapt to both forms of exercise.  In this blog I will go over the intricacies of combining both forms of exercise in a total fitness plan.  At the end, I'll go over why my personal program is laid out the way it is.

For the most part, combining resistance training with endurance training is fairly easy.  The first thing you need to do is determine your priorities.  Are you more interested in gaining muscle mass or are you interested in shedding some fat or participating in distance running competitions?  Making this determination will help you decide how much you should do of each and the order you should perform each in.  If you are trying to maintain strength, get stronger, or increase your muscle mass, you should place resistance training first during days you perform both. If you are trying to improve your performance in an endurance event you should perform your endurance exercise first.  From a fat loss perspective there really doesn't appear to be much of a difference, so if fat loss is your goal you should perform the one you like doing least first so you are less likely to skip it.

Keep in mind you don't have to perform both forms of exercise on the same day.  Assuming you plan on exercising Monday-Friday, you can perform each on alternating days.  If you are trying to get stronger or build muscle, you should perform resistance training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and endurance training on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Endurance exercise, when performed at a lower intensity, has the added benefit of promoting recovery from resistance training so this type of layout tends to work well for most.

If your goal is to become good at an endurance sport, chances are you will be performing that type of activity at least 5-6 times a week at varying levels of intensity.  This is because the adaptations that occur from endurance training are much more sensitive to taking long breaks and, therefore, require more training to attain and maintain.  In this case you will likely throw in 2 resistance training days on the days you are using lower intensity for your endurance training.

Another important concept to grasp is that adaptations to any mode of exercise are muscle specific.  In other words, endurance exercise that only uses the upper body leads to adaptations in the heart as well as the muscles of the upper body but no adaptation to the muscles of the lower body.  In the same way, resistance training of the upper body tends to only affect the muscles of the upper body unless the lower body is somehow involved in stabilizing the body moreso than it normally would by standing.  Taken further with regard to endurance training, while there will be some carryover between things like cycling and running, if you are trying to run a 10k you should stick to running and if you are trying to compete in cycling you should stick to that.

Finally, how hard you push yourself at each workout determines how much you adapt.  For the most part, if you don't push yourself further each time you train, you won't adapt further.  In other words, if you run 2 miles in 18 minutes and you never improve on that pace, don't expect to see a significant amount of adaptation over time.  It's actually a little more complex than that, and every now and again you have to throw in a lower intensity session or string of sessions to prevent overtraining, but the important part to note is that over time you should see improvements in the amount of time it takes you to complete endurance training and in the amount of weight you can lift for a given set of reps, or the amount of reps you can lift on a given amount of weight in resistance training.  Depending on how you structure your program, you may see more improvements from one form of training over the other, and you can adjust your program accordingly.

So what do I do for a program?  I do full body resistance training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  I do full body workouts because missing workouts is not that big of a deal and won't lead to me skipping out on body parts I don't want to do or on body parts that just happen to fall on Friday.  It also allows me to compress more work in to a given time by performing a leg exercise followed by an upper body exercise followed by a core exercise followed by a rest.  Each day I do an upper body pushing exercise, an upper body pulling exercise, a lower body hip dominant exercise, and a lower body knee dominant exercise and vary the reps of each from session to session and week to week.  I also perform core exercises to give myself a break between exercises.  After each resistance training session, I perform 15 minutes of rowing on a Concept 2 rower and keep track of how many meters I go each time.  The reason I chose rowing is because I want the beneficial effects of endurance training on the heart, but I want to maintain my leg strength and power.  Since I am not using my lower body as much during the endurance training, I'm using it just not as much as if I were running, I don't have to worry about an interference effect between distance running and resistance training of my legs.  Every now and again I will throw in some running on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I just keep the intensity of the runs low so that I am not forcing an adaptation that will conflict with my leg strength.  That's basically it, not too complex.

Author's note: My primary goals are longevity and to mitigate the trends associated with aging.  My goals are to remain lean, to maintain lean body mass, and to maintain cardiovascular function.